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E3 2012: Xbox SmartGlass

E3 2012

Multi-screen experiences were among the clearest trends in the press conferences at this year’s E3. One of the reasons for this is Xbox SmartGlass, which Microsoft announced on Monday morning.

On the show floor, a mock living room is host to a demo of SmartGlass, complete with a TV, two Windows 8 tablets and a Nokia Windows Phone.

SmartGlass promises to connect these devices seamlessly, providing an enhanced viewing and gaming experience. In theory, this holds huge potential because it’s formalising what many tablet and smartphone users are already doing. If you’re watching a documentary, it’s only natural to bring up Wikipedia on your iPad to find out more about a particular topic mentioned on the show.

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Microsoft’s representative first demoed a game scenario, with Ascend being played on the TV screen while the in-game map was on a smartphone. Next up was the HBO GO app, with Game of Thrones on the TV and an interactive map on a tablet. Both of these concepts are presented as equally valid uses of the technology, but in practice this may not be true.

When you’re watching TV, your hands are free to hold and control another device; you’re actively using a tablet, and passively watching the TV. Gaming is different though. You’re actively playing the game, using the controller in your hands and have to pay attention to the on-screen action. This doesn’t leave you with any hands to use your other device, unless you pause the game. This implies a somewhat awkward usage pattern when used with games.

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One place it’ll definitely be appreciated is in Internet Explorer, which was also demoed. This allows you to type in a web address on your smartphone, providing you with much quicker text entry than a controller can.

That it was a demo was clear. Each device kept disconnecting from the Xbox, while the interaction within the app was sluggish and clunky at best. There is definite potential, though. With iOS and Android versions being made available, this could become a real hit if content providers buy into the concept. If they know what’s good for them, they should.

The author of this fine article

is the Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2000. Get in touch on Twitter @PhilipMorton.

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